The Mets are facing a roster crunch as we inch closer to Opening Day. They currently have 39 players on the 40-man roster after outrighting Brandon Hicks, but would need to clear four more spots to fit Omar Quintanilla, LaTroy Hawkins, Scott Atchison, Marlon Byrd, and Aaron Laffey all onto the Opening Day roster. Rather than just outrighting four more players and hope they clear waivers, Adam Rubin is reporting that the Mets have indicated they are wiling to trade some of their "non-core prospects on the 40-man."
Rubin goes on to identify seven prospects that might be available. Let's take a closer look at each. I've included their rankings on the 2013 Amazin' Avenue Top 50 Prospect List for reference:
Juan Lagares, OF (24)
As you might recall, Lagares had a breakout season in 2011, posting a .349/.383/.500 line between Advanced-A St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton as a 22-year-old. A lot of that was BABIP-fueled, and when his 2012 batting average on balls in play regressed to .337, his triple slash fell to a more realistic .289/.334/.389. Lagares will likely hit for some average, but there's not much in the way of secondary skills here. He has a simple, line-drive swing that doesn't project for much power, and while he posted a career high walk rate in 2012, he's still not what you would call patient. Therefore, most of his value at the plate is going to be batting average driven. He's an average runner, and although he stole 21 bases last year, he wasn't particularly efficient in the process, getting caught 10 times. To sum up, Lagares has a classic tweener skill set: Not enough range for centerfield, not enough bat for a corner. That said, he projects to start the season in Triple-A, and could help a team in need of a fourth outfielder (like the Mets for instance) at some point in 2013. While I don't think he can play centerfield every day, he won't kill you there, and he has enough arm for right. I think he's the least likely of this group to get traded, if only because of the organization's dearth of upper level outfield prospects.
Cesar Puello (27)
Another outfield prospect, this one equal parts intriguing and frustrating. He's intriguing because of the tools in his bag: Between St. Lucie and the AFL, Puello was 29 for 33 on stolen base attempts and he has potential above-average power (potential being the key word there). Like Lagares, he probably isn't a centerfielder at the major league level, but profiles as an above-average defender in right. He's frustrating due to a complete lack of plate discipline. For his professional career, he's posted a 355:80 K:BB ratio, including an ugly 87:15 ratio in 2012. That's simply not going to work at higher levels. He gets an OBP boost from his ability to get hit by baseballs (which at this point probably has to be chalked up to actual skill), but given his issues staying on the field the last two seasons, being a fastball magnet is probably not a great long-term strategy. Puello was also named in the Biogenesis documents, leaving the Mets in an awkward predicament. Teams will probably be less inclined to trade for him, for one, but if the Mets decide to outright him to clear a spot and he clears waivers, he will no longer have 40-man protection in regards to any MLB inquiry. With his recent injury issues, Puello needs to get a full-season under his belt, and a potential 50 or 100-game suspension will not help in that regard. Hmm, all told maybe he's actually a bit more frustrating than intriguing.
Hansel Robles (28)
I'm a bit surprised Robles was on Rubin's list. Not that I'd peg him as a core prospect, but the Mets front office has spoken very highly of him all off-season. I wrote extensively about Robles last year and can't imagine him helping a major league team until late 2014. The Mets added him to the 40-man this past offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, so they at least thought he might be able to stick in a major league bullpen immediately. The Mets will keep him as a starter for now and likely skip him directly to St. Lucie, but he's a bullpen arm in the end, and if the Mets see him as a potential major league starter, I don't believe they'll be able to find a commensurate return on that valuation.
Darin Gorski (36)
Gorski seems like the player that the Mets would be most likely to deal. And yes, it deeply pains me to type that. After his breakout season in St. Lucie in 2011, Gorski fell back to earth a bit in Binghamton, struggling with his control in the first half of the season and the long ball in the second half. He's not going to fit in the major league bullpen as a LOOGy, due to a below average breaking ball. He struggled to get consistency with his slider in 2012, and reportedly switched back to a curve later in the year. Despite a velocity uptick, his fastball is still only fringe-average at 88-90 mph. His best pitch is a plus change-up, but that profile isn't one that jumps off a scouting report. Gorski is behind Jeremy Hefner, Collin McHugh, Jenrry Mejia and Aaron Laffey on the depth chart right now, and he'll have a cavalcade of potential backend startes nipping at his heels in St. Lucie and Binghamton this year. He could be ready to be a #5 starter by July, and that might be attractive to a team with a spacious outfield and less starting pitching in their system.
Reese Havens (40)
A former first round draft pick (the same year as Ike Davis), Havens has had his minor league career derailed by a series of injuries. He has only recorded 300 plate appearances in a season twice, his first full professional season in 2009 and again last year in Binghamton. Havens hit just .215/.340/.353 for Bingo and looked statuesque at second base. He still posted a strong 15% walk rate, but has seen his power dampened by a loss of bat speed, probably from the same injuries that have cut into his range. He'll be 26 this year and hasn't played in AAA yet. He still has that first-round pedigree and a change of scenery could help, but I'm not holding out hope that he'll be much more than Brad Emaus. It's likely that Havens would have been one of the first guys on the 40-man chopping block regardless of the number of spots the Mets needed to clear, so if they can get a lower level guy with a bit of upside in return, I think he'll be dealt.
Gonzalez Germen (47)
Like Hansel Robles, Germen was added to the 40-man roster this past offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. He's been in the Mets system since 2007 when he signed as a 20-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. Germen got a brief look out of the pen in Spring Training, but has been a starter for the majority of his minor league career. He pitched 153 1/3 innings across three levels in 2012, posting a 4.34 ERA and a 121:43 K:BB ratio. The stuff isn't much better than the numbers. His fastball sits in the low 90s as a starter, and can touch higher, but it's straight as an arrow. Germen's change-up is his best secondary offering, and it's average to a tick above, but his breaking ball is basically non-existent. Toby Hyde of Mets Minor League Blog saw a lot of him in 2011 when he was in Savannah and had this to say (tweet):
Guys like Germen are usually freely available this time of year, so I doubt he brings much in return. Of course if he was going to be outrighted anyway, like with Havens something is preferable to nothing.
Elvin Ramirez (NR)
Much of what I wrote about Germen applies to Ramirez as well. Mets fans got a good look at Ramirez in 2012 so there's not much mystery here. He has a live arm, averaging 93.6 mph last year with the fastball per FanGraphs, but he struggles to locate it, or any other pitch really. Ramirez walked almost 20% of the batters he faced in the majors, and his minor league rates have not been much better. He has a pretty good change-up and in addition he'll show two different breaking balls. He flashed a decent-looking curve when I saw him in Binghamton last April, but hardly threw it at all in the majors. Like Germen, he projects as a roughly replacement level reliever, so I don't think there will be a ton of interest here either.
The Mets do have some other options available to preserve a 40-man spot or two. They could use Collin McHugh instead of Aaron Laffey if Shaun Marcum is not ready for Opening Day. The Mets might prefer Laffey's experience, but I just don't see a much of a gap between the two pitchers over a handful of starts. They could also place Johan Santana on the 60-day DL, as even the rosiest scenarios probably won't see him back on a major league mound until June. That's just kicking the can down the road, but it would give the organization time to see some of the above players at higher levels. More data is always better. But even if the Mets elected to make both of those moves, they would still have to clear two more 40-man spots.
There were also rumors earlier this Spring that the Mets might look to move Justin Turner closer to the start of the season. It's probably an option that should still be on the table. The Mets could then go with Omar Quintanilla and Zach Lutz as the back-up infielders. That would give them a true back-up shortstop and an actual lefty masher on the bench. However, given the rather fluid injury situations with David Wright and Daniel Murphy, I'd wager Terry Collins would prefer to have Turner available in case one of the two isn't ready for Opening Day.
If it does come down to trading a prospect or two, I'd probably lean towards moving Gorski and Havens first. The Mets have some starting pitching depth in the upper minors, especially of the projected-fifth-starter variety, and they've drafted heavily up the middle under Alderson, so Havens is a bit of a luxury. I'd also consider outrighting Germen and Ramirez. I don't a team trading for either and would think both have a better than even chance of clearing waivers. And if they don't, it's not a huge loss, as arms like Armando Rodriguez and Carlos Torres would slot in as future last-guys-out-of-the-pen. Frankly, there's no ideal path here, but given the team's apparent preference for veteran NRI guys (Byrd, Hawkins, Laffey) over the incumbent internal options (Nieuwenhuis, Familia, McHugh), something is going to have to give before the Mets break camp and head north.